Amazon workers in Europe mark Black Friday with 'we are not robots' protests

Unions for the warehouse employees call working conditions "inhuman." Amazon disagrees.

Michelle Meyers
Michelle Meyers
Michelle Meyers wrote and edited CNET News stories from 2005 to 2020 and is now a contributor to CNET.
2 min read

UK workers protest against working conditions in Amazon's warehouses.

Lizzy Burt

Black Friday is so named because it's the day retailers would traditionally start seeing profits and operating in the black. And Amazon has become a driving force behind the surge of e-commerce on the retail holiday.

But this year, Amazon warehouse employees in Europe are using the day after Thanksgiving to relay a much darker Black Friday message.

Union workers in the UK, Spain, Italy and Germany have staged a wave of protests and strikes against what they call Amazon's dangerous, high-pressure work culture and "its aggressive anti-union actions," according to a press release from Switzerland-based UNI Global Union on behalf of several other European unions, too.

"The conditions our members at Amazon are working under are frankly inhuman. They are breaking bones, being knocked unconscious and being taken away in ambulances," Tim Roache, general secretary of the UK-based GMB union, said in a statement. "Enough is enough. Time these workers were treated like humans, not robots ."

Amazon counters those claims, touting itself as a "fair and responsible employer" with "safe and positive" working conditions.

"We believe in continuous improvement across our network and maintain an open and direct dialogue with our associates," a spokeswoman said in a statement. "Amazon has invested over 27 billion euros ($30.6 billion) and created over 75,000 permanent jobs across Europe since 2010. These are good jobs with highly competitive pay, full benefits, and innovative training programs like Career Choice that pre-pays 95 percent of tuition for associates."

Union officials predicted that some 2,600 workers would appear at protests throughout the day, which in some cases included job walk-offs. But Amazon said its European fulfillment network is fully operational and reports to the contrary are "simply wrong."

This isn't the first year European workers at Amazon have staged Black Friday demonstrations. Last year they organized similar protests, dubbing the day "Strike Friday."

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